Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Due to Popular Demand...

All GAPCO ride posts are now listed in chronological order on the side bar. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Turkey - Coastal Road to Selçuk

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Click here for the Introduction.

Photo credit: Intrepid Berkeley Explorer
43 miles - Sunday, November 6

Leaving Sigacik we continue pedaling southward along the coast under intense gusts, like the previous day, but we are lucky the weather is mostly a tailwind. Not for the first time I am thankful to wear prescription sunglasses because, had I tried contacts again, quite literally the dust would've stopped me in my tracks.

As we pass Doganbey and Gumuldur the villages are a sea of white-washed walls and red tiled roofs. Skeletal structures of unfinished homes overwhelm the hillsides above us. When they're complete it's not hard to imagine Izmir's occupants, easily owning a second home on the Aegean coast. 

Photo credit: Turkey Travel Planner
Like yesterday, smiling faces greet us from the roadside. It's a mix of women and men riding donkeys, the women especially bedecked in colorful wide legged pants plus headscarves, covering all but their black eyes. Again, we smile and say Merhaba and they respond in kind. Children are especially friendly; they run towards us and wave, often addressing us first.

We are learning that kindness is ingrained in the Turkish people. A youngster or young man will escort us to the post office, a restaurant, food store – whatever we request. And not expect anything in return. Their attentiveness tugs at my heart. I express my gratitude with a smile and nod. After our months of travel across Europe, Turkey is a country like no other.

The coastal road weaves in and out of villages high above the sea. There are herds of sheep and goats wandering rocky hills, their bells clanging like music on the breeze. Shepherds, all wrapped up against a cold wind, often appear near the road, tending animals among small groves of Satsuma oranges, lemons, and limes. One man tethers two Holsteins in a tiny pasture to let the cows happily munch on a pile of oranges.

Andy and I treat ourselves to lunch at a restaurant. It's nice to get inside out of a chilling wind. For the equivalent of 3.00 USD we eat pizza, salad and drinks for two. Afterward, we are given two satsuma oranges, which are very sweet and yummy without seeds. Later we spy locals selling oranges, sitting on the graveled shoulder, each with a single basket of fruit.

Late afternoon we cycle a winding road and below us are coves of sheltered beaches. Houses are clustered, often with a rust colored tennis or basketball court right at beach level. Another cove reveals voices drifting upward. A person pulls a looped net towards shore – a gill net, Andy says.

Beyond Claros the road flattens. It is a floodplain where the Menderes River empties to the sea. By now, I'm cold, My knees are tired and tingly. It's late. Turning inland, the fading light glimmers on Selcuk, our destination, it's glow like a flame against tan hills.

As we pedal the remaining five kilometers, we can see the Ephesus ruins, an amphitheater curving a short flight back from the main highway as if molded into the earth. The site is a must see, as suggested by tourist information and the women from Izmir we'd met aboard the ferry. Apparently they're the best preserved ancient buildings next to the Acropolis in Athens

Pedestrian path outside Selcuk. Photo credit: Travelvice Snapshots by Craig Heimburger
As the traffic increases, Andy suggests an alternate parallel road, one that turns out to be lined with the protective arms of olive groves, were it the heat of summer, but for us this old road, cracked, and dirt in places is utilized by walkers and farm equipment. We share the road with a couple tractors, each pulling a wagon load of women wearing the classic garb: floral wide-legged trousers beneath long shirts, their heads wrapped in cloth. They reminded me of the bobble-headed figurines of my childhood. Beyond the rumbling wagons, it was our first glimpse of cotton fields, bursting with moth-like downy fiber.

Welcoming courtyard of ANZ Hostel. Photo credit: ANZ Hostel
We keyed on recommended accommodation, a pansiyon called Australia-New Zealand. The name itself drew us in, and coupled with low cost, promising English speaking proprietors and travelers, it was enough to keep us spinning wheels long past when we'd normally take a break. Without the task to locate shelter, a cloud lifted for today at least, it had allowed us to fully appreciate the landscape.

So it was with smiles that we come upon the pansiyon's sign on the near side of Selcuk, and after getting lost only once, bumping our wheels on a dusty cobbled street, that we pushed our bicycles up a brick-lined entryway and were welcomed into the hostel's plant filled courtyard. It was an oasis, surrounded by a 3 story yellow building, shaped like a horseshoe.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Parpaillon - A Delicious French Film

A clip from Parpaillon.
Picture a lady cyclist, dazed, in the middle of the road, hugging a bruised knee. 6 cyclists come along, fall in a heap. The guys dust themselves off and get back on their bikes, weaving around the fallen lady, oblivious to her predicament. But chivalry isn't quite dead. A solitary cyclist eventually comes to her rescue. He throws his bike down and rushes to her side.

Entrance to Col du Parpaillon tunnel. Photo credit: Wikipedia
This is one episode in Parpaillon, a 1993 film by French director Luc Moullet, that chronicles an exhausting cycling race up graveled Col du Parpaillon, a pass in the French High Alps. There are delicious scenes, highlighting joie de vivre. Characters include: older guys dressed in tweed, kitted packs, single women, a couple who are unabashedly in love and are exuberant when they spy a dark tunnel, and a guy who cheats, aided by a vehicle and another who is pampered by his wife—at least I think it's his wife (read on to see why). Several riders become fed up with their bicycles and discard components and water bottles in a particularly humorous manner.

The film captivated me from start to finish. It had to—I watched all hour and twenty minutes in French (it is without subtitles) on Vimeo. I can only imagine how much more delightful it would be if I understood the language.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

GAPCO - Post Tour Thoughts and Equipment Review

Somewhere on the C&O Canal. Photo credit: Patty
"People don't take trips, trips take people."
--John Steinbeck
Five months later our 335 mile GAPCO adventure resonates like no other time on two wheels. Perhaps it's the proximity to large and small cities, yet feels like a country ramble through the woods. Perhaps it's a myriad of welcoming small towns, providing all manner of accommodations. Perhaps it's the touring cyclists' camaraderie. Or that the Great Allegheny Passage trail seamlessly blends into the C&O Canal towpath, yet both trails are distinctive and can be an enjoyable journey on their own.

It's heartwarming to experience firsthand how small communities embrace bicycle tourism. In turn, cyclists learn a region's history. Other long distance rail trails should emulate this symbiotic nature. This rare blend of spectacular trail network was a long time coming in the U.S.—a movement that's sure to grow as more trails are developed and linked.

C& O Canal, approaching Big Slackwater. Photo credit: Patty

A big surprise: both trails are 90% tree covered. Leave the sunscreen behind. However, come prepared for colder than predicted temperatures in September and October. Because of shaded trail, chilly mornings will not warm until 10 or 11 a.m. Trade-off: mosquitoes are gone; we had our pick of campsites, and could fall back on indoor accommodation during inclement weather. Next time, I'd add chemical warmers for back up warmth; they're small enough to pack without adding a bulky second pair of shoes.

Incidentals and Equipment Review

I'm a veteran bike tourist, but with the advent of lightweight gear, new fabrics, and different tour companions lending a fresh perspective, I continually learn new ways of doing things. It becomes an on-road class in bike touring with every adventure.

I giggled when my girlfriend bought Jiffy Pop to have as a snack—not too mention that it's impossible to pack inside panniers. However, if kept flat on rear rack Jiffy Pop stays intact. It also cooks pretty fast on a simple camp stove. And did you know that wine and popcorn go well together? I'm sold on this combination for any upcoming bike tour!

Photo credit: Patty
A digital camera doubles as documentation device. Snap a photo of wildlife for later identification—even if it's a big mother snake viewed from a safe distance.

My husband used an inexpensive plastic poncho as bike tarp, plus as additional coverage over an inadequate rain jacket. I presume it could also replace rain gear on an overnight adventure, saving space, and/or utilized as tent ground sheet. Get one at your local dollar store.

I would have preferred riding my mountain bike (I lent it to my girlfriend), but found my touring bike was very comfortable and certainly adequate for the entire journey.

An unexpected side effect: our bike tires constantly flung sticks and twigs. This happened even on GAP's fine, stone dust surface. We worried the twigs would lodge in our wheels and break spokes.

My bike had two fender problems.
The only mechanical mishap, fortunately, was a broken rear fender. A stick probably got caught, snapped the fender, buckling the plastic up against the frame.

My Avenir Excursion small panniers held up well. One side housed ground pad, sleeping bag, and rain wear, while the opposite compartment held clothing and toiletries. If you're a minimalist, the price is right for a decent amount of capacity.

The only downside is, at some point, I'll need to replace the u-shaped hooks that attach to rack. They are cheaply made and one hook was slightly bent before I started the ride. However, the center clamp is a nice touch, insuring hooks stay in place.

Eight days of bike touring on GAPCO's amazing network was certainly a highlight of 2013. I couldn't have traveled with better companions than my husband and dear friend, Patty. I hope we share many more two-wheeled adventures.

For a collection of day by day blog posts, see GAPCO Trail 2013.

Monday, January 20, 2014

What Gets Me Out Riding in January

I parked my bicycle in gobs of salt at a community college.

It's easy to say I won't ride my bicycle in the winter. Excuses abound. It's too cold, too snowy, too wet, too much salt on the road. Mostly, I'm resigned to walking for exercise from November to March, but there are situations when riding a bicycle is the perfect solution to commuting woes.

I saw this rack, after I parked my bike in a traditional rack (see above photo), and wondered about
 the advantages of this rack style. It takes up less space and has better visibility to rear entrance.
I may have to lift weights though to hoist my heavy bike!  

I choose to ride a bicycle when: a 5-mile circuit is too long to walk for allowed time; parking a car costs money—if you can even find vacant parking spaces (nothing bugs me more than endless circling to locate an empty space); and primary exercise for the day is swimming. To fit it all within a shortened timeframe, riding a bicycle is the right transportation option (provided my prerequisites for riding in winter are met: dry roads and temperatures above 20F).

In these instances, it helps to know where my helmet is stored. I also keep one bike ready to haul out the door.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Ideal Bicycle

If you could only own one bicycle, what would it be?

For those who own a cornucopia of bikes it's inevitable to entertain the possibility of culling the fleet, retaining one all-around bicycle. It would certainly clear out our garage—which isn't a bad thing—though I'm unwilling to break down and do such a ghastly thing quite yet. However, owning a singular bike has its appeal.

Would I keep a bike from my current stable? Or, is there another type that's a more appropriate fit?

For purposes of this exercise I'll consider my current bicycles and their attributes. I won't include the Peugeot UO 14; it's new (to me) and therefore is untested.

What stands out? 
To narrow my thinking process, I've made a concise list of each bike's striking feature(s), in order of personal value.

Ross Mt. Saint Helens - Step-through ease, stable and solid frame, versatile front rack

Trek 830 Antelope - broadest gear range - I use all three chainrings, rock solid frame, best bike for hilly rides

Miyata 610 Grand Touring - most comfortable ride, frame soaks up road surfaces, lightweight frame

Increasingly, I have some discomfort, lifting my leg over traditional diamond frames—even more so with Miyata's higher top tube. Once I'm out riding, however, it becomes a moot point, as long as I refrain from constantly getting on and off the bicycle.

It's never an issue when I ride the Ross. In fact, even with handlebars that are too low, it's pure joy to climb aboard her frame. It's clear that I will—and perhaps already have—gravitate towards step-through style bicycle in the future.

For my ultimate ride, I envision a lightweight frame, ultra low gears (like my Trek with 34t freewheel), ample fork and drop-out clearance to accommodate wide tires and fenders, a simple front rack, plus multi-position handlebars for touring.

For now, the Ross is the closest in my bicycle closet—my go to bike. For sure it's a bit on the hefty side and could use lower gears, but for now it's a bike I can continue tinkering with, and with the ability to raise handlebars, it might suffice as an interim ideal bicycle.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Turkey - Inquisitive and Friendly

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Click here for the Introduction.

Loud speakers on mosque blare muslim call to prayer.
Photo credit: Islamization Watch
Friday, November 4

The sunrise call-to-prayer wails out of loudspeakers at 6 a.m. awakening us from a peaceful sleep. The pansiyon was quiet and comfortable, but Andy and I get up, anxious to walk around Cesme. We eat the last of our food cache – American style cereal – and pay for another night's lodging.

Cesme is a fine introduction to Turkey. It's a tourist region; proprietors speak English. Andy and I wanted to visit Turkey because of it's eastern influence, archeological sites, Istanbul sounds like an exotic city, and because, frankly, we loved the name. However we didn't have an itinerary. We inquire at the tourist office and are rewarded with a wealth of information. Next errand: withdraw 3,000,000 lira (95.00 USD) at a bank. Andy and I chuckle at the huge number – 1 million of any currency sounds extreme – but again we are advised to exchange as little as possible. With 100% annual inflation – not good for the local economy – but our dollars should go far.

Turkey is a vast country. After talking with an American couple that spent 3 weeks bike touring western Turkey, we compare ferry rides; they offer suggestions, notes on culture, etc., and confirm that travel is inexpensive. They also reconfirm recent campground closures, but highly suggest pansiyons or bungalows.

Andy and I decide to spend our three weeks heading southward. We understand that Greek and Roman antiquities are better preserved this side of the Aegean.  

We are pedaling western Turkey, south of Izmir. Photo credit: Free World Maps
50 miles - Saturday, November 5

Andy and I get up early and eat cold breakfast: fruit, yogurt, bread, washed down with camp stove -cooked coffee. We leave Cesme a little after 8 a.m., excited and well rested after two days off the bikes. The town is waking up, though slower than on a weekday.

As we roll through town, men stare at us in disbelief. We presume that riding a bicycle is not common, probably less so because we're foreigners. It goes both ways. Turkey was the first country where Andy and I wanted to be better prepared. Filthy Greek campgrounds and ill will towards the Turkish people soured our Grecian travel, propelling us eastward to Turkey. Perhaps that's why it took us longer to acclimatize in Cesme. We needed a safe and interesting route, local currency, lodging, and where to buy food, all details we wanted sorted out beforehand. On the other hand, we remind ourselves that we bike tour to explore and one shouldn't get overly hung up on logistics.

Curious Turkish children.
Photo credit: flickriver
A strong wind buffets our loaded bikes. It's tough, whipping from the side, then a stiff headwind. It's easily 15-25 m.p.h. Outside of Cesme the road is far from pleasant: narrow, without shoulders, rough, with moderate traffic, zipping to and from Izmir. I'm scared, fighting tears, trying to hold a straight line as the tempest shudders, flapping the drying laundry secured to our panniers. I have mixed feelings. People wave from their automobiles, from houses along the route, especially children, yet truck traffic regularly blows us onto sandy shoulders. By 2:30 we are still on the same tack, struggling, frustrated, and tired. I haven't uttered a word in two hours.

Amidst the long tedious miles we take a break from the relentless wind. We crouch in front of a Mosque against a waist-high stone wall, eating lunch, drinking bottled water (suggested by tourist office, though tap water is safe, but smells funny) finally sheltered from whirling dust. Two young boys come by, bend over with hands beneath their chins, grinning wide-eyed and innocently at us, speaking Turkish. I respond, “Merhaba,” which means “hello”, the only Turkish word I know. I smile. The boys hang out for bit, inquisitive, then wave and are gone.

And then, we turn off the main highway. A simple 90 degree turn toward Ephesus and the wind is at our back. Exhaustion turns to exhilaration. We sail up and down dry hills, without a care. Laughing. 21 kilometers to Seferihisar fly by. A guy on a moped slows down and strikes up a conversation in English. He's an example of a handsome, black-haired and dark-eyed, lean Turkish man. We pullover and talk, avoiding the hazard of conversing at our new “fast pace”. He hopes we can provide him with a pen pal; he's 19 years old and studying English in school. We take down his name and address, delighted by his friendliness, and press on.

Sigacik, small fishing village near Seferihasir. Photo credit: Wikipedia
By 5:15 p.m. we roll into a tiny fishing village and take a 250,000 lira (7.50 USD) offer of a room in a pansiyon. Once again it's bliss to sleep in a bed. We squeeze our wide loads into a hallway and surprisingly past another mountain bike with panniers. Another bike tourist!

In the room, I hear the wind howling outside. Andy is bathing in the now familiar shower-over-toilet arrangement, common to this part of the world. It saves on having a separate shower stall. Best to lower seat and lid, otherwise seat becomes a wet mess. Later, we relax, rehash the day, pour over maps, hoping the roads are less intense the further we retreat from Izmir, 3rd largest city in Turkey.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Coffeenneuring Prize

Mary included an appropriate card too. Doesn't the espresso look delicious?
Look what came in the mail! It's my prize for completing 2013's Coffeeneuring Challenge: a delightful embroidered patch. I plan to sew this one and the golden star from February's Errandonnee onto my new panniers. Trouble is, I'll need to sharpen a needle and my patience, hand sewing numerous curlicues is one more challenge in itself.

Thank you Mary, for these unique opportunities that encourage us to ride.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Slick and Tired

Bicycles are frozen in place. Snowplows scoured frozen sidewalk
 and road edges, leaving surreal ice blocks.
It's slick out there.

After falling flat on my back, then losing my footing on an icy bank between parking meter and my car, which left me sprawled with one hand wedged above my head between two utility poles, I hope that's the end of my winter mishaps.

For now, I'm singing the praises of salt trucks, which leave white-stained but walkable and rideable surfaces—for brave cyclists anyway—making travel safe for everyone. Recently, a driving rain fell, which became slippery, ice-covered conditions when the temperatures fell. Days later, sidewalks have improved and I'm venturing out for much needed exercise.

Outlying areas aren't so lucky. Dirt roads have three inches of glazed ice. While public roads are sanded, private roads are left to owner's whims and abilities, especially what each considers adequate road maintenance. I work in a home office (not my own) and for years have been at the mercy of winter weather gods. Now, I drive a treacherous .75 mile driveway, park, then shuffle towards the house like an old lady. Once I manage the 100-foot distance to office entrance, I negotiate 3 ice-filled wooden steps, which I'm reduced to navigating on hands and knees. It's quite comical, especially when my boss comes out to lend me a hand, laughing yet oblivious to improving stairway conditions. I'm used to my employers' odd behavior; they're overly generous in more heartfelt ways, something I've grown accustomed to.

I often would cut across this field on my early morning walk.
Not so, now that the landscape resembles a skating rink.
I know that someday I'll laugh and reminisce about this winter. Much like the 30" Valentine's Day snow storm, or 2011's record snowfall, or 1998's ice storm that brought electricians from all over the country to help restore power to hundreds of thousands of Vermont homes, this year's ice-ladened trees and shimmering landscape will soon be—I hope—another memory.

Our household compost bucket is overflowing. I can't bring myself to travel 100 feet of backyard ice to empty rotting vegetables into a larger receptacle. I suppose the wretched smell will eventually make my husband or me brave the skating rink.

If I can't ski, I'm ready for a January thaw. Enough to wash and clear salty road debris. When and if that happens, my bike and I will be out the door, pronto.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Spoke Beads - for the Kid in Me

As a kid I remember when I clothespinned cards in my spokes. We made quite the buzzing racket, especially as a group, spinning up and down our neighborhood street.

Then came multi-colored plastic straw-like ornaments that we pressed onto spokes. They were without sound, but the whirling color was divine!

This holiday I received a packet of reflective spoke beads. Imagine the fun I'll have this Spring. Should I get bar end tassels to go with them?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Bookmarks the Spot!

Santa put the coolest thing in my stocking: a stainless steel bookmark with a cutout of a bike. And, one end says "commuter". How sweet is that?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

GAPCO - Turtle Run to Washington, D.C.

The landscape opens a bit as we near Washington, D.C.
Friday, September 27, 40 miles.

We savored the last miles of our trip. It was a self-imposed slowness that was unspoken; neither of us had agreed to slacken the pace. I felt bittersweet; it was an incredible journey that was coming to a close, yet I hungered for more riding. The forecast promised an incredible stretch of fine weather, and though I'm not one to revisit an adventure—too many places to see, so little time—I finally understood why people have ridden this trail numerous times: we missed Antietam Battlefield and other sights. All things aside, I could've turned around and ridden back to Pittsburgh.

Broad Run Trunk Aqueduct kept in working order. Photo credit: Patty
It was easy to stall the inevitable entry into a big city. Again, we flushed a barred owl from the trail; we stopped to gawk at egrets or listen to Canadian geese emit an eerie sky-filled shrill that almost made me cover my head, and since we couldn't spy the flock through dense canopy, I wondered at their numbers flying overhead or perhaps congregating a stone's throw away along the Potomac. And, like many days herons and turtles were constant companions, ornamenting a disused canal.

But when we arrived at Great Falls Tavern a working canal boat, led by mules, displayed the former C&O work life like nothing else could. 

We got to see the speed at which the mules walked, how important a taught towline was to overall tracking and navigation, and surprisingly—at least to me—that two people, and not one, directed the mules.

Photo credit: Patty
Nearby, we took turns investigating a long elevated walkway for precious views of Great Falls. It's a magical place, if not wholly natural because of an upriver dam. Near golden trees and debris deposited at high water line illustrates a tumultuous environment. The falls are in constant flux, influenced by season and rainfall, and I imagine, a wonder that draws people back, again and again.

Photo credit: Patty

Annie crossing towpath at Widewater. Photo credit: Patty
Downriver, hiking trails veered off into the woods, eventually looping back. There were walkers, something we didn't see a lot of in earlier days.

Photo credit: Patty
Lo and behold a snake eases onto the path. And not just any snake, but a 5-foot all black thing with white-checked belly.

Photo credit: Patty
We keep our distance and watch it meander away, disappearing into grass beside the canal. I later learned that sometimes snakes coil themselves around a tree trunk. Not for the first time I was thankful we cycled in Autumn, when creatures, great and small, are often languid or non-existent, especially snakes and mosquitoes.

We take lots of pictures, having to leapfrog a runner a few times.
With three miles to the finish line, a paved trail appeared. It would be easier to cycle on asphalt, but we didn't come all the way from Pittsburgh, riding every trail mile to bypass a bit of discomfort at the end. Instead, we stuck to the plan, even though the dirt trail had become much rougher since leaving Great Falls.

Mile marker 1. Photo credit: Patty
With one mile to go, Georgetown's brick buildings considerably narrow the C&O Canal National Park. On paper, and in reality, it felt like entering D.C. through the back door.

Following the canal to it's source, becomes an interesting game in navigating city infrastructure. Bridges and roadways now block what was once a continuous towpath. It's unclear where to go; not even the guide book is a help. However, strangers point us in the right direction.

There's nothing quite like hefting touring loads up and down stairs. I'm glad we only had to do it once.

Narrow section in Georgetown.
A short jaunt brings us to a busy street, one blocked by barricades and numerous policemen. Fortunately, they let us through.

Historical park sign. Photo credit: Patty
The C&O Canal pathway is brick-lined between one city block. A former tourist canal boat is left to rot in the water, sadly full of peeling paint and dirt.

The canal's humble beginning.
Directions are sketchy at the end and we nearly get separated. But Patty finds the way, past a marina. I never would have guessed we'd need to duck between long skulls on shore and a boat house. But there, on the other side is the canal and it's intersection with the Potomac.

Cement post marks canal entrance.
335 miles later we are at mile marker 0.

Photo credit: Patty
World War II Memorial.
It's such a nice day and only two o'clock. It seems a shame to retreat to a hotel on the far side of the river when D.C.'s monuments are so close. We join the throngs around the Lincoln, WWII, and Korean memorials, pushing bikes when appropriate.

Reflecting pool and scaffold-wrapped Washington Monument in background. Photo credit: Patty
I could've ridden the entire Mount Vernon Trail. It's great being in touring shape again. Photo credit: Patty
The it's off to Reagan National Airport to retrieve our car, via the Mount Vernon Trail.

At the end of the runway, Andy must watch a plane zoom overhead
Taking care of bikes, hotel, and much needed showers, we relax and reminisce over margaritas and Mexican food. What a great adventure!